Teachers & Making a Connection
Teachers don’t make a lot of money. They’re usually deemed unworthy of news coverage unless they’re involved in a scandal or a strike. Most of the time, their major accomplishments are shared only with colleagues and family members and the celebration is often cut short by a catastrophe that has taken over that specific hour’s headline. Yet, in spite of the highs and lows, I cannot think of another profession that brings both joy and challenge on a daily basis.
Today, it’s a rarity for a teachers to try to make it their business to know everything about their students – where they live and with whom; how often they have changed schools; how many siblings they have; whether or not they live in a house or an apartment; and/or, whether or not there is trauma/drama in the household. Teachers that go on home visits and/or shop in the local neighborhood stores just for the possibility of running into one of their students and/or a parent/relative with whom a student lives are frowned upon and this behavior is considered extreme – is even compared as a stalker. Some of the best conversations are in the produce aisle at the grocery store because teaching and learning is often hindered by details that are not often available in a school record – the more you know about a person, the easier it is to develop an alliance. Positive and healthy relationships depend on clear communication and when effective communication is lacking, misunderstandings occur and intentions are misinterpreted.
Unfortunately, far too many of today’s teachers are unqualified and poorly trained. Many are working tirelessly to rectify that, but while we address what and when we teach, we must not forget to include how we deliver those lessons. Unless there is a connection between teacher/student/lesson, learning becomes tiresome to everyone involved. Yet, the value of relationships is often downplayed or ignored completely in teacher-preparation programs. Even more disturbing is the lack of useable information on the relationship-building process. There’s no place to go to learn about relationships. Our children are raised by paid caregivers so who is teaching them about relationships? How do our children know how to get along with their playground buddies? What about when they’re grown – how do they know how to get along with their neighbor or their new boss? In the 50s, moms stayed at home with their children so the children had examples set for them – they learned, by example (good or bad), how to manage various relationships – neighbor, teachers, friends, dates, spouse, employers, siblings, etc. There is the belief among some that this type of camaraderie between teachers and students leads to an unprofessional familiarity or it places the teacher in a weakened position within the hierarchy of the classroom. We leave our children in the care of individuals who spend more waking hours with them than we do; however, we don’t encourage a strong relationship or a mutual bonding that can only benefit our children through exploration, dialogue, confidence, and mutual respect.
We have now entered into an age where nothing is private and secrets are hard to keep. Our “friends” are counted by simply clicking a button. Face-to-face interactions are deemed as unnecessary and time-consuming. Of course, we can do just about anything online, including teaching and learning. However, I want to look into your eyes when the answer finally dawns on you. I want to hear the excitement in your throat when you “get” it and the inflection in your voice when you’re angry with me. I want to see the smile on your face when you forgive me. I want to share in the joy when we both realize that we make a good team. I don’t see that as a continuing trend and that saddens me.
I was on a plane recently and the flight attendant asked my name. When I told him, he said, “I knew that was you! You taught at my elementary school. You made me take my cap off when I was inside the building and you told me I was handsome.” He then paused and said: “I think I kept my hat on until you saw me, just so I could get that compliment – thank you for making me feel special.” I, too, thanked him for how special he made me feel that day. Thankfully, there have been many former students – throughout the years – that have reminded me of the sustaining power of making a connection.
Do you often think about a teacher who made a difference in you becoming who you are today? Send me a note in the comments section.